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Lions Roar : September 2019
1. MINDFULNESS: THE POWER OF AWARENESS DIANA WINSTON on how to use the tools of mindfulness to work with negative patterns like shame, guilt, and self-criticism that stand in the way of caring for and liking yourself. DIANA WINSTON is the director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. Her latest book is The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering your Natura l Awareness. M Y NINE-YEAR-OLD HAD SAVED UP her money for roller blades. When we were at the sporting goods store, I got inspired too and purchased a pair of old- school white roller skates with pink wheels. I was thrilled to share this new pastime with her and we spent the afternoon in blissful mommy–daughter union. We were learning together, it was outdoors, and we were away from screens. It was all great until the next day, when I caught my toe in a crack, fell, and torqued my knee in an awful direction. Along- side the excruciating knee pain, I was filled with equally pain- ful self-recriminations. What was I thinking, what a stupid idea, I can’t believe I screwed this up. Summer’s ruined! If I got hurt, what’s going to happen to her? I’m such a terrible mom. On and on it went. Until I remembered to be mindful. Then I saw I was caught in a painful cycle of self-blame, guilt, and judgment, all intensifying the physical pain and making me even more miserable. I paused and brought com- passionate attention to my breath and body. Noticing the thoughts and emotions that were arising, I calmed myself down and found my center. I remembered I was human, definitely fallible, and I would get through this. And I did (although my knee still hasn’t fully recovered). I, like everyone else, suffer from a challenging complex of thoughts and emotions that show up from time to time: self- judgment, self-criticism, guilt, shame. These emotions seem to be at epidemic levels in society today. Because I’ve been meditating now for thirty years, I have tools at my disposal that I can deploy to work with these emo- tions and thoughts. When they pop up, as they did in my roller-skating misadventure, mindfulness tools are there for me. To help you work with your own painful thoughts and emotions when they arise, here is the approach I use when working with students, one that has kept me sane (most of the time) and self-compassionate for decades. HOW TO GET OFF THE TRAIN OF THOUGHTS The simple mindfulness practice of returning our wandering mind to the present moment is the foundation. When we get submerged in shame, self-hatred, and guilt, we can train our- selves to come back to the present moment and find relief. It’s helpful to develop a regular, daily-ish meditation practice so that we have some understanding and experience with mind- fulness in advance. Then we have the tools to apply it on the spot when the going gets rough. The critical voices inside us take on a myriad of disguises, and mindfulness excels here. We learn to see those thoughts merely as thoughts—not to be taken as reality. One of my favor- ite bumper stickers is “Don’t believe everything you think.” Thoughts, while potentially amazing, profound, and bril- liant, are also the source of enormous suffering. We all have our top ten suffering thoughts—worry, judging, comparing, and for most of us, guilt, shame, and self-criticism. We can learn to bring a mindful approach to these thoughts. I find a couple of analogies helpful. Thoughts are like snowballs. We start out with a tiny bit of snow and if we’re not mindful, it can grow into a giant snow- ball that overwhelms us. It’s important to catch the thoughts when they’re tiny to not let them escalate. Thoughts are like trains. We get on a train (I blew it today at work...) and it leaves the station. The next thing we know we’re twenty miles down the track—twenty minutes into disturb- ing, predictive, globalizing, or catastrophic ruminations (so I’ ll probably be fired...). LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2019 41